When people talk about art galleries in Paris, Le Louvre is always mentioned, usually closely followed by Le Musee d’Orsay. These two galleries attract millions of international tourists each year, wanting to see Mona Lisa’s smile, Gauguin’s Tahitian Women, works by van Gogh, Degas, Caravaggio, Delacroix, Ingres, Renoir, Monet, Vermeer, just to name a few. However, where do you go to see celebrated modern art (usually classified as art of the 20th century, post WWI art) in Paris? Where can you see the works of Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, etc.? Hidden amongst the Haussman-styled apartment buildings in the 4th arrondissement of Paris – well known for it’s cafes, shops and expensive real estate – is Le Centre Georges Pompidou, the hub for modern art in Paris. On weekends, the forecourt of the centre is usually filled with street performers of every shape and size, who seek the attention of visitors and passers by alike.
Note: For those who don’t know, Paris is broken up into 20 administrative districts know as arrondissements, each with their own mayor and council, as well as their own individual character and atmosphere. When Parisians talk about where they live, they always mention their arrondissement. Your arrondissement places you, socially speaking, into a box. It tells others of your social and economic standing, your interests and even your political persuasions. For example, the 16th arrondissement is know to be very upmarket, chic and conservative. In contrast, the 18th arrondissement is known to be very liberal, artsy, with a large population of North African immigrants and descendants.
The exterior of the Centre Georges Pompidou appears to be somewhat of an eye-sore when set in contrast to the surrounding neighbourhood. In a very ‘un-Parisian’ manner, the original buildings on the site were demolished in the 1960s to make way for this ‘hideous’ structure (Paris usually has a great reputation for retaining and transforming existing structures, which as allowed to city to retain its old-world charm – the Louvre Museum was originally a royal palace and the Musee d’Orsay is a converted railway station. On my first visit to Paris, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Parisian government created a new suburb on the outskirts of Paris, known as Le Defense, to accommodate a growing need to establish a business district in Paris, rather than demolishing the existing buildings and neighbourhoods). So, steering away from tradition, is Le Centre Georges Pompidou. The steel frame, the glass facades, the coloured pipes and the tres moderne look of the site ensure that no passerby fails to miss it. The design and construction of the centre has since become and has remained a topic of heated criticisms amongst many Parisians.
As you can see from the photos above, the view from the top floors of Le Centre Georges Pompidou is unquestionable Parisian. Seeing the unmistakeable rooftops of Paris and the Parisian skyline dominated by the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame from this perspective was a unique experience. The colours, the textures, the design of the structures, just thinking about all those hundreds of thousands of people who inhabit this unique city. All those individuals who glance through those little windows to see life in Paris unfolding day by day.
Ok, so the main reason people go to the Centre Georges Pompidou isn’t to criticised the bad town planning/architectural decisions of the then French President Georges Pompidou, nor to be bewildered by the beauty of the panoramic views, but rather to appreciate the amazing art which is on display in the light-filled, warehouse inspired, gallery spaces. The Centre hosts many temporary exhibitions throughout the year, but it’s their permanent collect of Fauvist, Cubist, Expressionist, Surrealist (to name a few) works which I found absolutely amazing, especially in comparison to the ‘poorly’ collections of many of the large, state-run galleries in Sydney. Le Musee d’Arte Moderne in the 16 arrodissement – just up the road from where I was living and which I frequented regularly – also has a great collection of modern art, it is no where near as impressive, in quality and quantity, as the exhibits at the Pompidou Centre. All the big names of 20th century art are there – everywhere you turn you see art works you’ve read about and the closest you came to seeing them was on the pages of a poorly printed high school textbook (or a better printed and much more pricey university textbook). Picasso, Kandinsky, Braque, Matisse, Dali, Miro, Wahol, Pollock….the list goes on and on and on.
As you gather, if you’re an art-buff, an admirer of modern art, or a art history student seeking cultural gratification in such a culturally rich city as Paris (I put my hand up here), then Le Centre Georges Pompidou is a must on your next visit to Paris.
– The Centre is located on the opposite side of Les Halles to Le Louvre, and take one of the many metro lines which intersect at Les Halles/Chatelet and exit here.
Photographs from my personal collection